Updated July 15, 2020
Since the beginning of the Food Bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, planning and building strategies for the impact of the crisis on the community we serve has been a top priority. We’re continuing to follow the guidance of the CDC and the state of North Carolina. Some of the precautions we’re undertaking specific to COVID-19, (on top of our standard, daily, safety and hygiene processes) are shared near the bottom of this page. The Food Bank is committed to serving those in need, and we’re very thankful for the trust that’s placed in us.
Emergency Food Relief
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The urgent need of the people in our 34 counties has been unprecedented—and so has the Food Bank’s response. Even with a 38% increase in need, and despite food supply chain challenges unlike any we’ve seen in the Food Bank’s 40 year history, we’ve been able to distribute a record amount of food to the community thanks to our network of partner agencies. These efforts and impacts would not be possible without the incredibly generous support of our donors. They reached out immediately to find out what was needed, and we’re very grateful to have their trust and the trust of this community to address the urgent need for hunger relief.
In the last fiscal year, which includes 4 months of crisis response, the Food Bank distributed nearly 92 million pounds of food, a Food Bank record. This equates to more than 75 million meals. It took an incredible amount of resources, support, and partnership to get this done. In 4 months (March, April, May, June) the Food Bank had to spend $2.3 million to buy food in order to keep food going out to the community. That is more than twice our typical annual food purchase budget. Even now, lead times for getting purchased food to the Food Bank are still 4-6 weeks, so the planning and logistics are very important.
We’ve hired 20 temporary staff to support our shift to more contact-free food distribution for our partner agencies, and we’ve relied on staff and volunteers to deliver monthly food boxes to seniors’ homes and to help operate an influx of Kids Summer Meals sites. The Food Bank has rented an additional 4 trucks and 10 trailers to support distribution of more fresh foods to our partners. We began operating our Kids Summer Meals program 2 months early, in coordination with school systems, nonprofits, and businesses, to help provide more than 10,000 meals a week to children who are out of school. From mid-April through mid-July, we’ve been thankful to have the support of the North Carolina National Guard to bolster our operation, in lieu of our ability to have large groups of volunteers.
Additional staff members have been trained and shifted focus to benefits outreach services to support the large increase in community members seeking federal nutrition benefits like SNAP. Prior to COVID-19, the average number of referrals per month to the SNAP program (also known as Food and Nutrition Services – FNS, or food stamps) was approximately 180. The number of people seeking referral assistance doubled from March-June, with a peak of 624 people seeking SNAP support in the month of April. Last fiscal year, 3,600 people were receiving SNAP benefits, after getting help applying from our benefits outreach team. We’ve also received support from federal and state government resources for programs, food, and funds.
Here For The Long Haul
The response to the COVID-19 crisis has been very different from a weather-based natural disaster. However, just like the storms we’ve faced in the past, we know the devastating impact is long-lasting and the need for increased hunger-relief support will continue for months. COVID-19 is impacting communities and populations of people that were already made vulnerable to hunger by inequitable policies and structures. Children, older residents, people working in the agriculture, hospitality, or travel and leisure industries, the Latinx community, and the Black community are all facing food insecurity at even higher rates than before the pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 547,720 individuals, families, and seniors in central and eastern North Carolina facing hunger. This includes 169,770 children and teens, who did not always know when their next meal would be. These numbers were down significantly from what we knew for 2016, when nearly 600,000 people were facing hunger in our 34 counties. Our strategies for nourishing people, building solutions, and empowering communities were working to break the cycle of hunger! Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, a new study from Feeding America projects the number of food-insecure neighbors in our service area to grow by 38%, including 49% growth for children and teens. That means approximately 756,320 people (1 in 5 people) may face hunger in 2020, including 253,570 children (1 in 3 children).
38% increase of neighbors in need across our service area, because of COVID-19
49% increase of kids & teens in need across our service area, because of COVID-19
One of the things the Food Bank has done in response to natural disasters and the COVID-19 crisis, is increase our partnership with organizations that are reaching those people who have been marginalized. Some of the new partners we are working with and learning from, to reach more people, include: AMEXCAN, Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Guatemalan Consulate, Manos Unidas, Meals on Wheels, Mexican Consulate, NC Works, UNCW Latino Alliance, and North Carolina Public School systems within our 34 counties.
Help Us Meet The Increased Need
There is a long road ahead, and the Food Bank is here for the long haul. We will need resources to continue enacting the strategies we know work to end hunger. Here’s how you can help:
💲 DONATE FUNDS
As we shift our inventory and operations to meet the ever-changing need as well as prepare ourselves for Hurricane Season, funds are the resource we need most. Financial donations allow us to stay nimble, to change our operation as needed, and to reach new people with our efforts.
📱 INVOLVE FRIENDS
Want to mobilize your neighborhood, church group, or other circle of friends? Holding a Virtual Food Drive is a great way to help – while practicing social distancing. We even re-launched our Virtual Food Drive platform. Visit foodbankcenc.org/vfd to set yours up today.
🗣 USE YOUR VOICE
Research the policies that impact hunger and speak out! Contact your state, local, and federal representatives to let them know policies like SNAP, TEFAP, and WIC need to be strengthened in order to break the cycle of hunger and help relieve families of the burden of hunger. Visit foodbankcenc.org/advocacy to learn more.
⌚ DONATE TIME
The Food Bank greatly relies on our volunteers, especially in times of crisis. If you are a healthy adult and want to volunteer, you can self-schedule a shift at foodbankcenc.org/volunteer
Extra Health Precautions
We are continuing to implement more safety processes and are going above and beyond when it comes to cleaning all areas of the Food Bank. We’ve changed our model of getting food to our partner agencies: we now pull their orders from our warehouse for them, and load the food into their vehicles in our parking lots to keep everyone safe. Another change is we’re purchasing food that is pre-packaged and ready to go. This helps us ensure we follow CDC guidance when it comes to the safety of our partner agencies, and our volunteer needs.
Current volunteer sessions are being capped at smaller numbers and volunteers are spread out at those stations. This is to best accommodate social distancing while still packing vital food resources, in accordance with guidelines around large groups. We are also limiting volunteering to ages 18-60 at this time, to best protect vulnerable populations.
There is personal protection equipment available at the Food Bank, however if you have these on hand and can bring them, it would allow the Food Bank to conserve those resources. All volunteers must wear gloves. All surfaces are wiped down and sanitized before and after each volunteer session with wipes that contain at least 60% alcohol. We’ve hired additional housekeeping staff to make this possible. We’ve removed focal points like iPad sign in and the name tag station.
All volunteers must wash their hands upon entering the Food Bank, before starting a project. Team members will be on site to direct you to the restrooms. Best practice from the CDC—whether at you’re at the Food Bank or not—wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
If you are feeling sick, or displaying any symptoms of illness, please stay home. It is true that we rely on volunteer power to get the job done, but we need you to be healthy and operating at 100% to make that happen! Please do not put yourself or anyone else at risk by coming to volunteer when sick. If you are displaying signs of illness while on site at the Food Bank, one of our team members will ask you to return home.
If you sign up and can no longer volunteer, please let our team know so they can fill the empty slot. You can check for any possible changes in your email or this page before coming in for your volunteer session. With your support we can help make sure no one goes hungry during this uncertain time.
Food Safety And Hygiene
Our staff, Partner Agencies, and volunteers are of the utmost importance to our operation and ability to serve, so we are taking extra steps to ensure their safety.
For your awareness and reassurance, we want to share some of the Food Bank’s standard, routine practices around food safety and hygiene: the Food Bank has regular food safety inspections from independent entities (like NCDA, USDA, AIB, and Feeding America) and works to maintain the highest level of cleanliness and sanitation for the safety of the food we provide to our partner agencies, as well as those who enter our facilities to support our work.
We thank you for all your do for the Food Bank and the communities we have the privilege to support and empower. Please take care of yourselves and your family and follow the CDC for guidelines and updates: cdc.gov/COVID19